Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
Operation Trifecta Announcement
Thursday, July 31, 2003
(Note: The Attorney General Often Deviates From Prepared Remarks)
Each year, drug traffickers contribute to the deaths of more than 19,000 Americans, and cost the United States hundreds of billions of dollars in substance abuse and addiction.
President Bush has committed our nation to an all-out fight to reduce drug abuse. The President pledged an unwavering commitment to end the tragic toll of lives and hope lost to drugs.
To that end, the Department of Justice is pursuing major drug trafficking organizations, reducing the supply of drugs in this country and breaking the vicious cycle of drugs and violence that threatens our nation.
Today, the United States and Mexico, working together, have achieved a significant victory against the purveyors of illegal drugs, death and violence: Operation Trifecta.
Operation Trifecta has been a 19-month multi-national Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation. It targeted the Mexican drug cartel known as the Zambada-Garcia Organization.
Today, federal, state and local law enforcement officers arrested 63 suspects in the United States. At the same time, in Mexico, law enforcement officers there arrested four suspects.
Overall, Operation Trifecta involved more than 80 domestic and foreign investigations. The operation yielded:
- 240 arrests;
- The seizure of nearly six tons of cocaine;
- Almost twenty-five thousand pounds of marijuana;
- More than one hundred pounds of methamphetamine; and
- Suspected drug proceeds totaling more than $8 million.
In addition, the Justice Department today is announcing the unsealing of a January 2003 indictment charging Ismael Zambada-Garcia and two of his top lieutenants, Vicente Zambada-Niebla and Javier Torres-Felix, with conspiracy to import and distribute cocaine.
Ismael Zambada-Garcia is alleged to be the head of one of the largest, most powerful and ruthless drug trafficking organizations in Mexico. His organization allegedly imports multi-ton quantities of cocaine and marijuana into the United States, and uses a complex distribution network to deal these illegal drugs nationwide.
The indictment alleges specifically that between August 2001 and June 2002, the Zambada-Garcia organization delivered one ton of cocaine with an estimated value of $17 million to the New York/New Jersey area; more than one and a half tons of cocaine with an estimated value of $30 million to the Chicago area; and 50 pounds of cocaine with an estimated value of $391,000 to California.
Zambada-Garcia allegedly has links to other influential drug traffickers, including Miguel Angel Felix-Gallardo and Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo, the founders of the infamous Guadalajara Cartel responsible for the kidnapping and murder in 1985 of DEA Special Agent Enrique Camarena.
According to the indictment, the Zambada-Garcia Organization received multi-ton quantities of cocaine via maritime shipping from Colombian sources of supply. Then the Zambada-Garcia Organization allegedly used a variety of methods, including planes, trucks and cars, to transport the cocaine to the United States-Mexico border. Members of the Zambada-Garcia Organization then allegedly transported the cocaine across the border to distribution cells in the United States, including Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.
The activities of drug cartels such as the Zambada-Garcia Organization weaken our citizens and communities. They threaten the rule of law, and insidiously endanger our way of life.
That is why in March 2002, I called on the law enforcement community to develop what is known as the Consolidated Priority Organization Target List. It identifies 53 significant, international criminal entities, including drug and money laundering organizations, clandestine drug manufacturers, and major drug transporters.
The Consolidated Priority Organization Target List represents the first time that federal agencies have ever worked together to develop a unified "World's Most Wanted" list of those organizations that pose a threat to the United States.
We have identified these organizations, we are investigating them, and we intend for each of them to face justice.
In the past 16 months, three organizations identified on this "most wanted" list have been dismantled by law enforcement. Now, we add a fourth - the Zambada-Garcia Organization's American-based distribution network.
In attacking the multi-national nature of the Zambada-Garcia Organization, investigators and prosecutors used a number of investigative tools to crack the cartel's command and control communications and make Operation Trifecta a success.
Over the past 19 months, Trifecta investigators coordinated and communicated with law enforcement and intelligence counterparts. They also used more than 200 wiretaps and pen registers, and served more than 90 search warrants - including a delayed notification warrant - to help make the cases for the arrests we are announcing today.
Dismantling this complex and dangerous drug network would have been impossible without these tools, which law enforcement has used in these types of cases for many years.
I am highlighting this point because these tools - coordination and cooperation, wiretaps, pen registers and delayed notification warrants - are the same tools provided by the USA PATRIOT Act, which help law enforcement to prosecute successfully the war on terrorism.
The American public should know that these tools that have allowed us to make gains in our war on drugs, are the same tools that allow us to make gains in our war on terrorism.
These are the tools we are using to connect the dots in our anti-terrorism investigations. These are the tools that are helping us protect American lives and take potential terrorists off the streets, just as they have helped us take drug dealers off the streets for many years.
I thank the Attorney General of the Republic of Mexico, Rafael Macedo de la Concha. This morning, I spoke with him and thanked him for his leadership and his cooperation in this case specifically, and in our shared battle against illegal drugs.
I thank Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson and Associate Deputy Attorney General Karen Tandy for their effective and innovative leadership of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force that played a significant role in this investigation.
I am also pleased to report that President Bush today designated Karen Tandy as the Acting Administrator of the DEA, effective immediately. The President also announced his intention to nominate Michele Leonhart, who is with us today, as the Deputy Administrator of the DEA.
I also thank Director John Walters of the Office of National Drug Control Policy for his leadership in forging new alliances and implementing new ideas to fight drugs at every level, and for his leadership and support in the creation of the Consolidated Priority Organization Target List.
I commend the Drug Enforcement Administration's Special Operations Division, which coordinated Operation Trifecta, and I thank the federal agents who participated in the operation. They include:
- The Federal Bureau of Investigation;
- The Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (BICE);
- The United States Marshals Service; and
- The Internal Revenue Service.
I thank Mexico's Agencia Federal de Investigation for providing critical assistance in this operation, as well as the Colombian National Police.
I also commend the efforts of:
- The Justice Department Criminal Division's Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section;
- Nine United States Attorney' s offices; and
- The state prosecutors in California, New York, and Arizona.
As is the case with all major operations such as Trifecta, we are grateful for the cooperation and assistance provided by state and local law enforcement as well.
Just as in the war on terrorism, the war on drugs is truly a fight between those who love freedom and respect the rule of law and those who seek to enslave and to corrupt.
The success of Operation Trifecta has made this a good day for justice, and a good day for the people of Mexico and the United States who believe hope, law and life should triumph over greed, crime and death.